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Another Chapter in Compton's Fiscal Tale : City Hall: Compton's controller says he was placed on administrative leave after disclosing that the city has a stack of unpaid bills, purchase orders and contracts worth between $5 million and $6 million.

October 15, 1989|MICHELE FUETSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COMPTON — The city's embattled controller, who was ordered Monday to stay home from work, says some officials are trying to keep him out of his office because they do not want to hear the truth about the city's poor financial health.

In a memo to the City Council Tuesday, Controller Timothy Brown said his disclosure that the city has $5 million to $6 million in outstanding bills, contracts and purchase orders from the previous fiscal year was used as an excuse to place him on administrative leave.

"The real issue is that management has overcommitted the financial resources currently available," Brown said in his memo.

In a telephone interview from his home Tuesday, he said: "Unfortunately, sometimes when people get bad news, they want to kill the messenger. Well, that's the way I feel."

Brown was ordered to stay home by Acting City Manager Howard Caldwell after Brown reported to the manager that there are millions of dollars in leftover financial obligations that must be transferred into this year's already-strained budget.

The City Council became involved in the rift Tuesday. After a lengthy closed-door meeting, council members Maxcy Filer and Jane Robbins attempted to pass a motion to put Brown on administrative leave. But the motion failed when the other three council members abstained.

The controller returned to his office Wednesday morning.

Both Brown and City Treasurer Wesley Sanders continue to insist that the city is spending more money than it has. In his memo to the council Tuesday, Brown said that as of Oct. 2 the city had about $3.2 million cash on hand, compared to about $7 million at about the same time last year. The city's bimonthly payroll is about $1 million and weekly expenses are between $200,000 and $300,000, he said.

The city regularly gets small amounts of money from such sources as fines, fees and sales tax, but, as Brown pointed out in his memo, the city will not receive "significant" additional revenues until December when county property tax money is apportioned to the municipalities.

Sanders, who works closely with the controller, said some city officials are trying to "railroad" the controller out of City Hall for telling the truth.

"We let the council know last November that they had financial problems," Sanders said. "We're about to go broke. That's why (Brown is under fire), not because he didn't tell them."

In order to ensure that city employees receive paychecks, Sanders said, payments to vendors are being delayed. Purchases approved months ago by the council and city manager also have been postponed, Sanders said.

For nearly a year, Brown has been insisting publicly that the city was headed for a fiscal crisis. Last week, the controller reported to the acting manager that unpaid obligations from the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, would total around $5 million to $6 million.

Caldwell insists, however, that he was surprised to learn that. He said he told Brown to stay home so that the manager's budget staff could review the controller's records in order to confirm whether there are millions of dollars in outstanding financial obligations.

Brown says such financial obligations exist because they occur every year. Outstanding financial obligations totaled $4.1 million in 1987, and $2.4 million in 1986, according to Brown's council memo. He did not supply a figure for 1988.

State law, Brown says, requires cities to total up the unpaid obligations from the previous fiscal year. These obligations then are included in the new budget, he said.

Most cities pass a resolution sometime between August and December, he said, and amend their budgets by shifting money from the reserve account into the operating fund. In Compton's case, however, there are no reserves, Brown said.

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